I lamented the food scene when I first arrived in Kyrgyzstan – limited fresh anything in winter, an absolute lack of most health food, an overemphasis in local cuisine on starch, mayonnaise and meat.
But then I discovered three redeeming factors of the Kyrgyz kitchen: Moldovian wine, Ukranian dark chocolate, and Turkish cuisine (better when together!). For many Turkish dishes take a small number of basic ingredients to create flavor rich and satisfying foods. Most ingredients are available in Bishkek (it doesn’t hurt that half the supermarkets are Turkish owned) and aren’t exorbitantly expensive (that’s you $5 shoprite mustard and the – absolutely delicious – $2 grapefruit still tingling on my lips).
So, while a host of expats are running around the city trying to locate mozzarella and nachos and lamenting about their paltry pantries I’ve been really enjoying immersing myself in Turkish cuisine.
Last week I was sick and the Turkish man made me this thick bone-warming soup…twice. It’s pretty easy to make, and there are a dozen different ways to spice it up:
Yayla Çorbası, also known as Yogurt Soup, is a thick and hearty traditional Turkish soup from the cool and rainy northern Black Sea Region of Turkey. The name, reflective of the soups origins, is derived from “yaylalar”, or the high mountain meadows of that region, which is also famed for the quality of it’s dairy products. The main ingredients – yogurt, flour, rice, egg yolk, and mint – are all easily-found staples of Black Sea and Anatolian cuisine. As with most Turkish dishes, recipes have been passed down from mother to daughter and neighbor to neighbor over the centuries, resulting in great variation region to region and kitchen to kitchen. Turkish families often serve this soup in winter, when the Black Sea drizzle chills residents to the bones, or when someone is fighting a cold.
You will need:
- 1/2 cup white rice
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 2 T flour
- 1 tsp salt
- White or black pepper to taste
- 2 T butter
- 2 T dried mint
- First, measure out the rice and put it in a covered soup pot with a pinch of salt and 3 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the rice is soft. If you have boiled chicken legs/thighs (see “variations” below) then you can replace the water with the chicken stock.
- Measure one cup of yogurt (preferably whole) into a bowl. Whisk until the texture is completely even.
- Next, mix in the flour and beat briskly.
- Once the flour and yogurt are amalgamated, beat in the egg yolk. Keep beating until the mixture has a silky smooth texture.
- Once the rice is cooked, take one ladle of hot water from the pot of rice and gently stir it into the yogurt mixture to raise the temperature. If you skip this step, your yogurt might separate when you pour it in the hot broth.
- Gradually pour the yogurt mixture into the soup pot with the rice, whisking all the while.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Continue whisking until the mixture simmers. Take it off the heat before it boils.
- Meanwhile, heat the butter and dried mint in a saucepan. Once this boils, stir it into the soup and serve!
- Add chicken: Before cooking the soup, boil 1-2 chicken thighs and several bay leaves in water until the meat is tender and falls off the bone. De-skin, de-bone, and add to the soup when finished. For a complete recipe that incorporates chicken, see this recipe on food.com. While definitely not traditional, you can also add Turkey. Simply Recipes has an adapted recipe with Turkey and chickpeas here.
- Add chickpeas: cook chickpeas beforehand, or add drained canned chickpeas to the soup and cook together for the last 3 minutes.
- Substitute rice out for buckwheat. Buckwheat provides a nutty flavor and is lower in calories and starch but higher in fiber and protein. This recipe substitutes rice for cracked wheat.
- Top with mint butter, savory sumac, urfa isot (dark roasted pepper), paprika, thyme or cayenne pepper to suit your taste.
- There are as many variations as households in Turkey! Try a few more recipes here, here and here.